Raman Viswanathan was born on 8th September 1899. After graduating in English literature and Science from the Madras University, he had his medical education in Madras Medical College where from he took his M.B.B.S. in 1926 and M.D. in General Medicine in 1931. He was awardedmembership of the Royal College of Physicians, London, in 1932 and elected Fellow in 1980. He obtained D.T.D. (Diploma in Tuberculosis Diseases) from Wales in 1938. He was elected a Fellow of American College of Chest Physicians in 1947 and a Fellow of the Indian Academy of Medical Sciences in 1964. Dr. Raman Viswanathan – the Father of Chest Medicine in India – died in harness after a brief illness on 16 July, 1982.
From 1928 to 1941, Dr. Viswanathan held posts of Assistant Professor (Medicine), later Head of the Department of Tuberculosis and Infectious Diseases and lastly Professor of Clinical Medicine in Andhra Medical College, Visakhapatnam. He served in the Army from 1942 to 1946, as Medical Specialist, and Officer Commanding, Medical Division. After his stint in the Army, he held the post of Adviser in Tuberculosis, up to 1957 and later Deputy Director-General of Health of Services, Govt. of India. Concurrently, he was Head of the Department of Medicine (Tuberculosis and Chest Diseases) and Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Delhi University from 1946 to 1964.
He was solely responsible for activating the a Faculty of Medical Sciences, Delhi University, in 1946, by persuading the University authorities to institute for the first time a Post-Graduate Diploma course in Tuberculosis and Chest Diseases. Before that, the University had neither an under-graduate nor a post-graduate course in Medical Sciences.
Dr. Viswanathan was primarily responsible for planning and establishing VPCI, a unique national institute for research and post-graduate training in Chest Diseases, under the aegis of the University of Delhi. Formally commissioned in 1953, the VPCI, has attained over the years, a high national and international status through the outstanding contributions made by him, his colleagues and successors in the field of Chest Medicine and Allied Sciences. He held the post of Director-Professor, VPCI. Following superannuation he continued working in the institute as Emeritus Scientist, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (1964-1969) and Honorary Professor until his death.
Dr. Viswanathan founded the Indian Association for Chest Diseases in 1958, of which he was the President till 1981 when it was reconstituted as the National College of Chest Physicians (India). He served as Editor-in-Chief of the Indian Journal of Chest Diseases and Allied Sciences until 1982 which he had founded in 1959 as an official joint publication of VPCI and the Indian Association of Chest Diseases.
He was closely associated with the Tuberculosis Association of India since its inception in 1939 and became the President of the National Conference of the Association in 1968. He served as a member of the Technical Committee, Chairman, Local Advisory Committee and Chairman, Research Committee of the Tuberculosis Association of India.
Dr. Viswanathan’s entire career has been characterised by his deep passion for the advancement of medical education and dedication to research. About 8 weeks before his death the ‘octogenerian’ punctually attended the Institute treating patients, conducting experiments, teaching post-graduates and guiding research. As he once quipped ‘I refuse to be driven by any one’, he drove his own carabout 60 km daily. Even on his ‘death bed’, he felt very concerned about his students, the Institute and his research work. Dr. Viswanathan’s extensive experience and his natural gift as a teacher and researcher made him one of the outstanding figures in the field of Chest Medicine in India as well as abroad. He not only actively participated in numerous national and international medical conferences at home and abroad, but actually organized several of them.
Dr. Viswanathan won several national and international awards and honours. His research work has received wide recognition at home as well as abroad. He published over one hundred scientific papers in reputed Indian and foreign journals. Besides, he wrote several books notable amongst which are, Pulmonary Tuberculosis, Diseases of the Chest, Medical Problems of Old Age, and While the Light Lives (autobiography). Some of his important contributions to research include, work on tropical eosinophilia, pathogenesis of basal tuberculosis, mechanism of lung atelectasis, etio-pathogenesis of bronchiectasis, mechanisms underlying the production of high altitude pulmonary oedema, epidemiology of chronic obstructive lung diseases,asthma and occupational diseases, chemotherapy of tuberculosis, etc.
In recognition of his contribution to medical research and education, Dr. Viswanathan was honoured by the Government of India with Padma Bhushan in 1974. Dr. Viswanathan is truly considered as “Father of Chest Medicine in India”. For detailed biodata, please see ‘Biographical Memoris Fellows’, INSA, New Delhi- 34, 17-36, 2008.